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Labor Strikes and Customer Rage: Buenos Aires Airport

CHILE | Wednesday, 16 January 2008 | Views [2530]

Argentina is know for it's restless workforce. Striking employees line the streets with flags, drums and lots of chanting, hoping to bring attention to their cause and resolution of their issues. Most recently it's been the airport employees in Buenos Aires who have been on work stoppage, causing undue delays and cancelation of flights, to the extend that they're enraged their customers who have physically attacked and caused significant damage to the airline check in counters, and airline employees are fearing for their safety. It's so bad that the government sent in the troops to quiet the crowds and keep them under control. We can appreciate the frustrations of the flying public, and the unresponsiveness and often non-communicative roles that the airlines play. Today is one of those days. We should just have a quick, painless flight from Ushuaia to Buenos Aires... all in Argentina. Our One World Round the World Ticket, however, won't allow us to fly direct, and routes us through Santiago. What we didn't know was that the flight also lands in Punta Arenas, Chile first. We spend the day literally "locked" in a glass waiting room with a ton of other passengers, waiting to hear any information about our flight. There are no TV displays or behind the counter displays providing updated information on departures and arrivals. In fact, the TV's seem to all be disconnected, nothing works. We have less than an hour in Santiago to catch our connecting flight to Buenos Aires, and it's the last flight for the night. Of course, if we get stuck in Santiago, then we need to clear immigration, which would result in our need to pay that $100 reciprocity tax that we've so far, successfully avoided by not flying internationally into Santiago. I finally get an agent's attention after what seems to be hours behind the glass walls, and she allows me to slip through, locking the doors behind me. I explain our situation and after three times going back and forth with her airline bosses, she finally understands the real issue of our missing the connection. She admits now that the flight will be delayed a couple of hours (something that none of the other testy passengers have been informed of, as they don't communicate here at this airport with their customers). I tell her I need her assistance to call our apartment manager who will be awaiting our arrival at 1:00 a.m. in Buenos Aires with the keys to our flat. She agrees to help make the call, although we still don't know what will happen in Santiago, if we'll be put on another flight, or made to stay overnight and take morning flight out. She also assures us that if we get stuck in Santiago, they have approved us for a free hotel stay, meals, and yes, to pay our immigration fee. Wow, what luck. We hope they actually hold up their end of the agreement.

We finally get a new plane that's cleared mechanically, and we touch down in Punta Arenas. We're all asked to get out and clear customs in this first city we enter through Chile. Not sure why, but we all pile off and are herded through immigration. Whew, our passports are stamped, we're cleared for another 90 days in Chile, and no immigration tax, yet. We board the flight again, and we're off for Santiago. Lucky for us, we're met on arrival by the LAN rep, who takes us to another guy who is wheeling around a bag of money, who we now call Mr. Money Bags. Yep, this is the guy we will stick close to, he goes through immigration with us, dishing out the now $132/per person fee to the immigration officer. The immigration officer looks at our passports, and refuses the money... he says because we've already cleared immigration on the same day in Punta Arenas, we are not required to clear again in Santiago. But just to be sure, we are then sent to the Police Department in the airport. We are closely following Mr. Money Bags who chats with the Police, who confirms, yes, we are cleared through, no need to pay. Wow, once again, we've avoided the reciprocity fee, although we would have liked LAN to pay it on our behalf and not have the worry anymore that we'll be hit with it, especially as it would be good for the life of our passport - which really only has another two years of validity. Mr. Money Bags passes us off to another woman who takes us to the airport hotel and pays for our stay, making sure we're all set for our flights and tickets for our 9:00 a.m. flight in the morning. The only thing we can't manage is to call the apartment manager in Buenos Aires to tell her that we'll be arriving the next day. We hope she's not waiting right now for us in the apartment. Apparently they have trouble calling out from Chile to Argentinean cell phones, and the hotel guy can't seem to get a call through either... so we go off to our fine 3 course hotel meal, and settle in for a few hours rest at this late time now, before our flight back to Argentina. I think today wins for the most passport stamps in one day... how crazy, having to clear out of Argentina immigration just to make our way back into Buenos Aires. We have One World and their crazy program rules to thank. LAN, however, has restored our confidence in their service... and while there were a ton of angry "glassed in" customers sitting in Ushuaia's airport waiting room with us, we at least eventually got service, despite the lack of communication and information.


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